I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I have a part-time job waiting tables. I’ve been doing it for about two years at two different restaurants (the first one I worked at closed about a year ago). It may not be glamorous, but it really does maximize my earnings compared to the amount of time I spend doing it. I truly do believe that everyone should be a server at least once in their life. It has given me such an appreciation of the job and has made me a better customer because I have an appreciation of what my servers do. While I enjoy the economic benefits of this job, it certainly does not come without its frustrations and “WTF!?” moments. I figured my blog would be the perfect way to highlight some of these things.
First, I highly recommend the book “Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter” by Steve Dublanica. It was published ten years ago, but so many things still ring true. I truly relate to that book on a spiritual level! Steve articulated things in much greater detail than I could do in a single blog post, so if you’re looking to better understand the world of serving or just want some laughs, check it out!
As a waitress, you really do tend to “see it all.” My most memorable story came from a three top (meaning there were three customers in that party) booth. They were the only table in the restaurant at the time. I had just taken their food out a few moments prior and stopped by to check on them. One of the customers said, “Everything is good, but I thought you might want to know that we just saw a mouse run past our table.” I think my heart briefly stopped and I’m sure my eyes were as wide as saucers. I said, “Please tell me you’re joking.” She said, “No, we even took a picture of it.” Sure enough, she pulls out her phone and shows me the picture – the date stamp was from that day and it was a rather large mouse perched on what was most definitely our carpet at the booth across the aisle from them (don’t worry, this took place at the restaurant that has since closed).
I apologized profusely and assured them their entire meal would be on the house. These customers were INCREDIBLY chill about the entire encounter. I can’t say I would have behaved like that had I been in their shoes. You could tell they were a farm/ranch family, so I’m sure they see mice all the time, but still. YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE ONE AT A RESTAURANT!!! Fortunately, they still left me a $10 tip which would have been roughly 20% of their meal cost, so that was much appreciated. I’m glad they recognized that this mouse incident was clearly not my fault and that I did what was within my power to rectify the situation.
My second most memorable story involves a poor tipper. Servers ALWAYS remember poor tippers, especially if you feel like you’ve went above and beyond for them and they stiff you. When I started my weeknight shift at 5:00, I was told there was a party of 15 with a reservation for 7:00. Neither of the other servers I was working with liked taking big tables, so I said I would wait on them. I don’t particularly love big tables either, because they’re a real gamble. If they tip appropriately, you can make a killing in one fell swoop; however, if they tip poorly, you just wasted at least two hours of your shift dedicating yourself to their table, because it’s virtually impossible to properly serve a group of 10 or more while also trying to juggle other tables.
I finished up with my last table at about 6:50 and didn’t take any others so I could focus on this big group. It ended up being a group of construction workers who were working on a nearby ethanol plant. Their boss was with them as well, who was well dressed and said he would be paying the tab (a sigh of relief, because keeping track of separate checks for a big group can be challenging). The guys were drinking like champs, constantly ordering tall beer after tall beer and most of the food orders were steaks and other pricier menu items. Everything went smoothly, the food was prepared as it should have been and came out quickly, and nobody had to sit with an empty glass waiting for me to get them another drink. I was rather proud of myself for keeping up so well. Nearly three hours later, the boss (who was very polite and thanked me for the great service) paid the $500 tab. On a $500 tab, $100 is a 20% tip. Even a 15% tip would be $75, and that is the bare minimum you should tip for great service. You know what he left me? $25. TWENTY-FIVE DOLLARS. That is a FIVE percent tip for three hours’ worth of work. Even worse, most of the guys ended up getting super drunk and making inappropriate comments to me. One even asked if I wanted to meet him outside and make out with him when my shift was over!
Now remember, I also work full-time in an office job and usually begin my work day between 7 and 7:30 AM; therefore, I don’t like working late on weeknights and usually refuse to be the closing server because I want to be home at a reasonable hour so I can be in bed by 10:00 PM. The restaurant closed at 10:00 but by the time the group left, I swept and cleaned up all of the dishes, and I rearranged the tables back to how they originally were, it was 11 before I could leave. So, not only did I have to deal with sexual harassment from some individuals in this group, but I also had to stay way later than I had originally planned, all for $25. Not cool!
Of course, I’ve also had too many encounters with generally rude people; for example, someone will rudely shake their glass at me when they down their pop in ten seconds and immediately expect a refill, or when I say, “Good evening, how are you doing?” to someone and they respond, “Diet Coke.” Umm, not what I asked. Let’s start this interaction off on the right foot and try being polite.
Now, while those are not exactly the positive highlights of my serving career, I have had plenty of good experiences with kind and generous customers. I am always thankful for those interactions, because they help balance the emotional toll of dealing with a rude or nasty customer.
One aspect of waiting tables I like is that I can leave work at work. So many jobs truly are not that way because they bleed into your personal life. While I may need to complain about something that happened at work to my mom or a friend (or write a blog post about it), bottom line – I won’t have to deal with the same issue the next time I work and it doesn’t plague me after hours. I also love that it’s a job that doesn’t require fronting money on a degree or other specialized training to obtain a certain skill set. I want to stress – waiting tables is not easy, nor is it a job that just anyone can do. You have to be able to talk to people, be a problem solver, work well under pressure, and efficiently multitask. For being something that doesn’t require a degree, certification, or specialized training, you really can make a good sum of money if you’re good at it (but sometimes only if the stars align for you).
Perhaps the most unexpected yet greatest thing about waiting tables is that it helps me stand up for myself. I’ve never been a terribly argumentative person, I’ve never yelled at anyone in my life, and I’m much more likely to cave during an escalating situation to avoid too much confrontation (perhaps it comes from being raised by an extremely strong-willed mother; I knew better than to argue with her because there was no way I would win). Because this job is not one I absolutely need (and therefore being threatened with firing is not much of a motivator), I am not afraid to stand up for myself and say something if I’m being treated unfairly, whether it’s by a coworker, a manager, or a customer. I don’t do it in a rude, nasty way, but it gets the point across. I am trying to work on standing up for myself in all aspects of my life now, but working in this industry gave me a great start.
Now, since this is a mostly personal finance blog, let’s do some math. Recently, on a slower weeknight, I waited on six tables but received 20% of my sales in tips (which most definitely does not happen every night, but I happened to have good people on this particular night). It worked out to be about $45 in tips. Not that great, but after you factor in the $5/ hour wage and consider I only worked 3.5 hours, I made about $18/hour. None of the other part-time jobs around town (like cashiering or retail) would pay even close to that. On a busy weekend night, I can make $30+/hour with tips – that’s more than I make at my full-time job!
If you are a server, or thinking about picking it up as a side gig, keep in mind: don’t beat yourself up or be discouraged over a bad night of waiting tables. It WILL happen. I’ve worked with some servers who make me wonder how they receive any tips at all because they’re lazy and/or have bad attitudes. I’ve watched a server mess up multiple times or virtually ignore their table and still receive a 20% tip, while I bust my butt for mine and receive 10%. Sometimes, no matter how great of service you provide, Mercury will be in retrograde or it will be a full moon or something and people will be crabby/cheap/just plain a-holes. Oh, and invest in some quality footwear. Seriously.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this post, it’s this: as a customer, BE KIND. Waiting tables is tough work. There is dignity in ALL work. Just because someone is employed in a “blue collar job” does not mean they’re the scum of the earth. Servers are humans, so treat them with respect. Here are some things your server cannot control: the quality of the food, how long the kitchen takes to prepare your food, being out of certain items, not being able to accommodate certain special requests, and the prices. Here are some things your server can control: their attitude, how they treat you, how often they check in on you (but please understand this can also fluctuate depending on how busy the restaurant is and how many servers are working), and finding an acceptable solution to an issue with the meal, should you experience one. I do not believe in tipping 20% across the board, because some servers frankly don’t deserve that, but if your server is pleasant, courteous, and efficient, please tip accordingly. If you don’t agree with tipping or think the restaurant should be paying their servers a living wage, go to a counter service restaurant where tipping is not an expectation or move to Europe where it isn’t customary.
Have you ever waited tables? What’s your craziest serving experience? Let me know in the comments!